2nd Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 44
By: Dr. Wayne Barber
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2006|
|“The Danger of Spiritual Deception – Part 3. When it comes to people who are supposed to be teaching God’s Word, I’m very sorry to say that in Christianity what some people call it today, we have the good, the bad, and the ugly.|
The Pain of Persecution (2 Cor 11:16-29)
Turn with me, like a broken record, to 2 Corinthians 11. Moving right along, we’re taking a lot of verses today. You’ll see the current of a river just carry us right on through. I normally don’t take this many verses, but it’s just so easy; it just flows together. We’re going to be talking about “Suffering for the Sake of Christ;” today, “Pain in the Midst of Persecution,” the things that Paul had to go through. And we’re going to look at some of the things that come as a result of our surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ.
You know, it’s quite a wake-up call when a believer understands that not everyone is really excited that he’s living a yielded life to Christ. Have you discovered that? Not everybody gets really excited about the fact that you’ve chosen to live under the lordship of Christ. There’s a lot of pain when it comes to living grace which we call living grace: it’s Jesus being Jesus in your life. And when you begin to let His Word and His Spirit control your life, not everybody is pleased. But when you consider the life of the apostle Paul and when you consider the pain that he had to endure for only one reason. You see, he shifted out of religion into a relationship. He came out of a set of rules and trying to obey a set of rules in order to be righteous to where he had to only be righteous by faith. And when he did that he suffered pain that makes our pain pale to non-existent.
It’s like we don’t have any problems when we’re around the apostle Paul. It’s like the man that survived the Johnstown Flood. He finally went to heaven one day and he got to heaven and he began to pester Simon Peter. “Simon Peter, I’ve got to tell everybody about surviving the Johnstown Flood.” Simon Peter said, “Okay.” But he kept pestering him and finally he said, “Alright, Saturday night, 6:00.” So they had a big meeting and the old boy showed up. 600,000 people there. It was a crowd. And he said, “This is going to be awesome.” And right before he got up to give his testimony, Simon Peter leaned over and said, “Now you remember, Noah is sitting on the second row.”
It’s amazing when we talk about our suffering in comparison to the suffering of the apostle Paul. Paul in verse 16 once again resorts to what makes him very uncomfortable. He’s going to sound like he’s commending himself again and you know that’s not what he likes to do. Back in chapter 10 he said the only people that are approved are the ones God commends. You don’t go around commending yourself. He hates doing this, but he’s identified something for the people and he’s doing this for a reason. He’s identified the fact that the false teachers in Corinth have a false motive which is to deceive. That’s the only reason they’re out there. And their method is by disguise. And he’s told us last time, “You know, of all things, of being servants of righteousness?” And their mentor and their master is the devil himself.
And so in verse 16 he says, “Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, that I also may boast a little.” Now the word “foolish” is the word aphron. It’s an interesting word; it identified the person who has lost touch with his world, with himself. It comes from two words, a, without and phren, understanding. It’s a person that just suddenly is without understanding. Paul is saying that it’s possible that someone might think that he’s lost touch because of what he’s about to do. He’s normally not the one to do this, but he’s going to do it because he knows they need to hear it. He warns them, “Don’t you think now that I’ve lost my mind.”
Verse 17 and 18, “That which I am speaking, I am not speaking as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting. Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also.” Why is he doing this? Well, the problem is that the Corinthians were listening to and tolerating the false teachers who were taking them for all they were worth. And this has gone to the very heart of the apostle Paul. He says in verse 19, “For you, being so wise, bear with the foolish gladly.”
Now the word “tolerate” is the word anechomai. We have seen that word back in verse 4 when he said, “You bear with them well.” Same word. And what it means is “these false teachers have come to you and you’re putting up with them, you’re even paying for them and you’re tolerating them. And this is causing me to do what I’m having to do. You don’t seem to see the difference here of who is and who isn’t. You bear with what they have to say. You put up with their behavior.” The irony here is that the Corinthians—if you’ve ever studied 1 Corinthians, especially the first 4 chapters—they prided themselves in being really wise. But yet they were so foolish, unusually foolish, by humoring the fools that were calling themselves apostles and doing it gladly.
First of all, let me show you what the false teachers were doing to them. He tells us in verse 20 the Corinthians submitted to their false teaching which put them right back into bondage. Paul taught the message of grace which sets a person free. Have you noticed, and you’ll see it all through the message, that people that love law, they hate grace? There’s not mixed emotions here. You either love it or you hate it. You see, a lot of people, flesh drifts toward law. It likes the law. It’s a checklist that you can measure, you can do it yourself and so they put them right back. In verse 20, “For you bear with anyone if he enslaves you,” because that’s what their teaching had done.
Secondly, the false teachers had evidently devoured their finances. He says, “if he devours you.” Thirdly, the false teachers had taken advantage of them. Paul says, “if he takes advantage of you,” which means you don’t even realize you’ve been taken. Fourthly the false teachers had exalted themselves at the Corinthians expense. He says, “if he exalts himself.” Can you imagine the arrogance of these people, and the apostle Paul’s heart, and he says, “You won’t listen to me, but you’ll listen to them.” And finally, the false teachers had insulted the Corinthian believers he says, by harming them physically. Paul says, “if he hits you in the face.”
That word can be translated “slapped.” This is the kind of abusive behavior they had tolerated because they had gotten up under something that would be good, which was the law, and they were right back into bondage. As stupid as it sounds, the Corinthians put up with the false teachers’ immoral and illicit behavior and did so gladly. You know, the only thing I can say is it sounds exactly like the 21st century: Christians that don’t seem to have enough discernment to get in out of the rain.
Paul says, “Wow, we should have been a whole lot tougher on you. If we’d known you would have tolerated that sort of people.” He says in verse 21, “To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison.” “We’ve treated you kindly. We haven’t taken a dime from you. The only thing I’ve told you is that we want to take up an offering for the saints in Jerusalem, and I didn’t even take it up. I sent Titus and some others to be accountable and look what you’re doing.” It’s right here that the apostle Paul puts a different tone in what he’s been saying. This is a man that I think is righteously indignant. That righteous anger has grown up inside of him and he’s responding now to what he sees, not only with the false teachers but with the Corinthians who are so gullible to listen to these people.
He goes on to say, “But in whatever respect anyone else is bold (I speak in foolishness), I am just as bold myself.” And this leads us into the message today, because he’s going to start now doing what’s uncomfortable to him, but he’s going to talk about the pain that has come to him, the suffering that has come to him simply because he’s trying to set people free by preaching the message of grace and preaching Jesus everywhere that he goes. This is not a shotgun approach to hit this one and that one and the other, it’s a rifle aimed at the false teachers who had so misled and made fools of the Corinthian believers.
And he identifies who these false teachers are. And I didn’t write this, and when we mention the Jewish people, you be real careful; I’m not talking about all Jews. I’m talking about the ones who were the legalizers, the ones who believe the law was the way of righteousness. He identifies them as Jewish. He says in verse 22, “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.”
Those are three titles, and when you put all three of them together, you’ve got a pure-blooded Jewish individual. First of all, Hebrew. They spoke Hebrew, but they also spoke Aramaic, not like some of the Jews that had moved into the land and could only speak Greek. They were Israelites, which meant they were born and raised right there in the land. And they were descendants of Abraham. You can’t get any more pure-blooded than that. Which immediately identifies who these culprits were: they were the legalizers that followed Paul everywhere he would go. You can see it in every one of his epistles.
But then he exposes their deceit: what they came on as. He says in verse 23, “Are they servants of Christ?” Are you kidding me? “(I speak as if insane) I more so;” and when he says “more so” he means “more so.” They don’t even show up on a scale when you put the two side by side. And now he begins to unveil what he again feels so uncomfortable in doing but yet feels like it is necessary to help them realize the seriousness of the problem that they’re dealing with. They’re listening to people who have paid no price and they won’t listen to the people who have lived it and have had it honed out in their life and have the message that will set people free.
They’re not listening to this one, but they’re listening to these others. Well, he wants them to know of the suffering that he’s had for the sake of Christ. I want to tell you, it may encourage your life today. You may be in a home and the husband doesn’t believe in the Lord Jesus or doesn’t walk with Him. You may be in a relationship of some other kind and you don’t understand why you have to put up with all the stuff you have to put up with. Well, put yourself next to the apostle Paul and I believe you will be encouraged before the day is over.
The scope of Paul’s suffering
First of all, the scope of Paul’s suffering. Now he starts off very generally. He says in verse 23, “in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.” The word “labors” there is the word kopos, and refers to hard work to the point of total exhaustion. It’s not the actual exertion while you’re doing the work; it’s how you feel after you’ve done it. It just caves in on top of you.
We were over in Israel and we were up on Masada. And when we got up there, that’s the last Jewish stronghold after AD 70 when Titus destroyed Jerusalem. There was a group of Jewish people up there that held out. But the Romans wanted no threat whatsoever, and so the people that were up there, after they’d been surrounded for several periods of years really, finally committed suicide. And they did that because they didn’t want to put themselves into slavery to the Romans. They say the Jewish officers are now commissioned on Masada to say that this will never happen again.
But we were up there and having a wonderful time seeing all the things they’ve unearthed and the archeological digs up there. And we came back to get on the cable car—this thing is several thousand feet up—to go back down to the bottom. And the cable car that had just brought a group up had stuck and it didn’t come into position so that the people could get out of the car. And it was hanging right there. They had the police and everybody else out there, the military, trying to get those people off that cable car. It was amazing, dangling that high over nothing. And they got them all off and one of them was in her 90’s. And they told us, “Oh, happy day, you’re going to have to walk down the back of Masada.”
Now we had 70 in our group. Many of the 70 were in their later years. One particular little lady was 83 years old. She was just grinning, and I’m behind her. Here we were going down Masada. This is in the desert. It was hot and the sun was beating down on us. It was probably a couple of miles we had to go down the back of it. I saw her in front of me, and every time I saw her take a step I just straightened up and said, “Buddy, if she can do it, I can do it.” But I got down, and when we were going to the bus, all of a sudden it hit me. It wasn’t the exertion going down—I wasn’t really conscious of that—it was when you stop at the end of the day, when you come to the end of the journey, all of that just settles in on you. And that’s that word “labor.”
He’s not so much talking about what he did; he’s talking about the way in which he did it and the weariness that comes from that. Paul says, “in far more labors.” Paul was worn out but he was never burned out. You can write that down because the Spirit of God energized him. People think the Christian life is passive; it’s not. The Spirit of God energizes us. We’re not burn out, but worn out, yes.
He says, “in far more imprisonments.” Clement of Rome says in his writings that Paul was imprisoned seven times. We only have record of five of those imprisonments and actually when he wrote this it was before one of these happened. We know that from the book of Acts he was imprisoned in Philippi, we know when he was put in jail in Jerusalem, and actually the soldiers saved his life because they were going to tear him limb from limb. We know when he was imprisoned in Caesarea, that’s three times and we know he was imprisoned in Rome twice. But Luke and Acts and Paul in his epistles, they don’t go into the seven times, they don’t tell about all of them. They were all because of Christ. You have to understand. This is persecution. This is not just suffering; this is suffering for the sake of Christ.
He says, “beaten times without number.” That’s a great translation of the word huperballontos, which means without number; it means to excel beyond. He said, “I can’t even count the times I was beaten without number.” The word “beaten” is the word plege, which refers to blows that strike the body and it can refer to the actual wound itself. In Acts 16:33 he uses this word: “And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds,” and that’s the word that is used there.
As Paul said in Galatians 6:17, “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.” I often wonder what the body of Paul would look like: with the scars from having been beaten the number of times that he had been beaten simply because he understood the message of grace and was commissioned of our Lord to preach it into a hostile world, both religious and rebellious. And they put him in jail, they beat him, and all the things that he’s had to go through.
He goes on and says, “often in danger of death.” The word “often” is the Greek word pollakis, which is a numerical term meaning frequency. “I wake up every day with this. This is just like breathing. Every day I face the danger of death.” So the scope of Paul’s suffering is more in general but it gives us a good picture. It involved being weary to the point of exhaustion, it involved being thrown into jail so many times. It involved being beaten so many times he couldn’t count them. And facing death was a constant companion.
You’ve got to get into this text with me. You’ve got to hear the pain of the apostle Paul, knowing what he’s been through, knowing every day he wakes up and he faces a hostile world and then the Corinthians that he’d given his life to share Christ with were listening to these people who were literally making a fool out of them? That’s the pain he’s going through. It was a slap in the face.
The specifics of Paul’s suffering
But secondly, the specifics of Paul’s suffering. Now it gets a little more specific here. He says in verse 24, “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.” Now, neither the book of Acts nor any of the epistles record what Paul says here, but we know it’s under the inspiration of the Spirit of God. The seriousness of these beatings is really what needs to be understood. This was a beating that was described in the Jewish Mishnah, which would form the basic part of their Talmud which was their book of instruction.
The maximum strikes that a person could be beaten was 40, because you beat them beyond 40 and it would kill them. And Deuteronomy 25:2-3 defines this: “then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt. He may beat him forty times but no more, lest he beat him with many more stripes than these, and your brother be degraded in your eyes.” The Jews, not wanting to exceed that 40 limit, because they knew that then they would be in trouble, instead decreased it to 39. And when our Lord was scourged it was not just with the kind of whips they would use. It was a cat-o’-nine tails, and they literally were trying to put Him to death.
So this was how many times that he went through this. Again we see that the very people who were being tolerated by the Corinthians—this is a sad thing—were the very ones beating Paul. And Paul said, “These are the people that caused me to suffer, and yet you’ve turned right around and listened rather than understanding the difference of the two.” Paul again is specific when he says in verse 25, “Three times I was beaten with rods.” Now being beaten with rods is a Roman punishment, and Paul says this happened three times. But Paul was a Roman citizen. See, you have to read into this a little bit. Paul’s a Roman citizen, and as a Roman citizen he was exempt from ever being beaten with rods.
Now, it’s just like in our times, isn’t it? There are a lot of officials today that are supposed to uphold certain things and they just don’t seem to get around to it or they turn a blind eye to it. That’s exactly what happened to Paul by the Roman officials. In 1 Thessalonians 2:2 he talks about how he was so outrageously treated as a Roman citizen when he was over in Philippi; the officials absolutely said or did anything.
Paul goes on and says, “once I was stoned,” and we do have a record of this in connection to Paul’s visit to Lystra. This is recorded in Acts 14:5. It says, “And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone him,” and the next verse says he escaped. But then you come on down to verse 19 of that same chapter and it says, “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium,” that’s the places he went to in his first journey, “and having won over the multitudes,” notice the emphasis here, “they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.”
And I want you to know, don’t point a finger at these Jewish officials and those people who were the legalizers. It goes on in the 21st century in the church. There are people who literally hate the message of grace. They love their flesh. They’ve done it for years. They have prided themselves on what they’ve accomplished for God. For three years I was in conference work and training and traveled the world 48 out of 52 weeks. And I would go into places, all denominations, and I’ve had people get up in the middle of a message when I’m preaching on the fact of the wickedness of the flesh and the sickness of the flesh and the depravity of the flesh, they will get up and stomp out of the church. I’ve seen it over and over and over again.
People, listen, your flesh loves the law and you see it happening to Paul right here. Make a connection. And every time he would go in preaching Jesus as the only way, Jesus is the light, Jesus is the Messiah, they’d come after him. And he’s trying to tell the people in Corinth, “The very ones you’re listening to are the very ones who treated me this way.” And this stoning; this stoning was a Jewish procedure which was used as a capital sentence that was cast upon an apostate or a blasphemer or an adulterer. And Paul nearly died; it was for death.
Next Paul says, “three times I was shipwrecked.” Now, we don’t have any record except the ones in Acts 27 and we believe this was written before that, so he’s already been shipwrecked three times. We don’t know anything about that. As a matter of fact, one of them was so bad he says he recalls “a night and a day I have spent in the deep.” Out there in the ocean, probably holding on to the board of a ship that is wrecked for a night and a day. So Paul’s recall not only gives us the scope of his suffering but it also gives us some definite specifics.
The stress of Paul’s suffering
Thirdly, the stress of Paul’s suffering. You know, it’s incredible to me to think about a man who woke up in a hostile world every day, never knew who to trust and lived that way every single day of his life, trusting only in the sufficiency of Christ in his life. The stress that would come upon a man like that. He’s still human; he’s a busy man. God had him going here and there and Paul, remember, made the statement, “I don’t build on other people’s work,” so he’s always going in an untouched area, unreached areas.
It says in verse 26, “I have been on frequent journeys.” Now what he’s going to do here is to catalog the dangers he faced on those journeys; just the simple journeys themselves. What it held for him: the elements of nature that he had to face and also the human factor. He said first of all, “in dangers from rivers.” And the word “dangers” is the word kindunos, which refers not just to the danger but to the fear or peril one has in anticipating it. He’s talking about here the fear that goes in one’s mind when the hurricane is climbing up to 5 or whatever it is, and the people, it hasn’t hit, but they know it’s out there. That’s what he’s talking about here: the peril, the danger. He said, “the danger of rivers.” The rivers of Asia Minor were known to swell and rise without any kind of warning. And they suggest that many times, Paul going into an unreached area, faced those rivers that would swell on him. He had to cross to get to the other side and the danger there.
“Dangers from robbers.” Travel in Paul’s day, especially through the mountains and wilderness, was a very precarious thing; it was a very dangerous thing. And he knew that. He knew every time he left to go on a journey, something was out there that was very hostile towards him. “Dangers from my countrymen.” Paul’s own people were one of his biggest threats. And he loved these people; Romans 9 says he loved them with all of his heart; would give up his salvation if they could just understand the message of grace. But he had to face them everywhere he would go. He was like a man who had no country.
The Gentiles were just as bad. He said, “dangers from the Gentiles.” Because of the crowd’s hostile response to Paul, his preaching, the Gentile officials were quick to react. So it was one working with the other. In Acts 16:20, “and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, ‘These men are throwing our city into confusion’.” And then in Acts 19:23, in Ephesus, “And about that time there arose no small disturbance concerning the Way.” And that passage leads to where they chased after Paul. It was a riot; it was totally out of control.
Paul faced peril everywhere he went, whether it was in the country or in the city. He says, “dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea.” And then the false teachers that constantly criticized him and undercut him to try to tear his message down. They were everywhere. That was chapter 10 and 11 of our study. They were always around. He says, “dangers among false brethren.”
On these journeys, facing these dangers, he says in verse 27, “I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” You know what hit me when I was studying this, and it’s probably hitting you about right now. We ought to be ashamed, living in America in the 21st century, for what we complain about. Really, you think with me. Do you realize that right now in other parts of the world there are more Christians that have been persecuted in the last 25 years than there have been in the whole history of Christianity? And you’re just seeing one example of this way back yonder with the apostle Paul.
And you know what? Sometimes the biggest persecution that we have is the air conditioning is not quite right or the preacher preached too long and we were late for our class, or I don’t know if I like this or I don’t know if I like that. It’s just amazing to me how pampered we are in America and how little we even understand about the persecution that is in this world.
Well, the scope of Paul’s suffering is pretty clear. The specifics, he even gets very specific. The stress is what I put in there. Because I know the man facing the peril, the peril is part of it; the fear that’s in his life. Listen, there are no vacancies in the Trinity: Paul wasn’t in it. His application was turned down. Paul was a human being just like you and he, and he struggled just like we struggle. Romans 7, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death, wretched man that I am.” You’ve got a man that is just like anybody else. He didn’t get anything more or anything less than you and I have. I believe it was Peter that said, “We’ve received the faith just like Paul.” All of us have the same Christ in us.
The sensitivity of Paul’s suffering
The final thing that I have on this one is just the sensitivity of Paul’s suffering. You know the thing that bothered him the most? Not the dangers of the rivers and the beatings, etc., he’s not complaining. But what got to him the most was the spiritual health and condition of not one church but all of the churches. Can you imagine that? It’s enough, the weight, to look over one church and people that care understands it. Yet, so much of this pain that he had—a lot of it was brought on by hateful people—but the most of it was brought on by that deep burden when he saw people like the church of Corinth listening to what they listened to, listened to who they listened to, sending their money to who they were sending their money to. That broke his heart.
Like it was when he talked to the Ephesian elders and he said, “Man, as soon as I leave wolves are going to come in amongst the flock.” It was like the church of Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians: they didn’t know what happened to the body. They weren’t doctrinally sound enough. He was concerned and he wrote that epistle. In 2 Thessalonians they thought they were in the day of the Lord. He said, “Man, you’re not in the day of the Lord. That hasn’t come yet.” But they were concerned; some of them had quit working. He said, “Get back to work.” That hadn’t happened.
You just read through his epistles. The churches of Galatia that bought back into the very same type of thing. You know, this is what weighed on him the heaviest. He says in verse 28, “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches.” That word “pressure” that squeezes on me every day. The word “concern” is the word merimna, and it means “that which expresses a deep emotional concern.” You can’t live and ignore this kind of thing. It’s deep in your life. It’s like a parent when they see their child going astray. It’s the heaviness that is on their heart when the child is supposed to be home at 10 and it’s 1:00 in the morning and it’s overwhelming to them. That’s what he’s talking about here.
He was concerned as a pastor-shepherd for the welfare, spiritually, the health, of all the churches. And then he says in verse 29—and you can just see him being so transparent, just this is Paul—he says, “Who is weak without my being weak?” That word “weak” means with no strength whatsoever. He’s at the point of weakening that only God is his answer in this. “Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” Remember he said back in an earlier chapter, “Who can handle it? Some people, the message they receive it and it’s like the light. And other people, they reject it, it’s death to death. Who can handle these things?’
You’re hearing the heart of an apostle here. You’re hearing the heart of a flesh and blood human being like the rest of us. You’re hearing a man who was stopped on the Damascus Road in Acts 9, blinded in his tracks, three days he couldn’t even see. He saw the Lord Jesus Christ; all of his religious efforts went out the window and he spends the rest of his life trying to tell people the law is not the way; the church is not your answer; Christ is your answer. And this is how he suffers. This is how he suffers.
Well, I want you to understand he’s not griping about any of this. You’re going to see in chapter 12 the peace and the rest he had in the grace of God. The grace of God that initiated him and sustained him; it carried him all the way through. You’ll see that in chapter 12. You don’t see it right now. It almost sounds like he’s poor-mouthing; he’s not doing that at all. He’s just trying to get a picture of what it’s like and why they’re listening to them and won’t even give him the time of day.
That’s why he started all this by saying, “I haven’t lost touch. Don’t think that. I know exactly what’s going on.” Paul says it may sound like it’s that way, but he sharing this in order to combat the foolish garbage that you’re paying attention to and listening to and don’t even realize the death that’s in it, the bondage that it holds. Paul was a man who had suffered much for the sake of Christ.